Some Notes On Party History pt.2
At the inaugural meeting the E.C. had been instructed to open a fund for the purpose of establishing a Party Press and to submit a scheme in connection with this.
At the first E.C. meeting a committee of three was appointed to consider and report on the question of a Party Organ. It is curious to recall that until a few years ago the Socialist Standard was always referred to as the “Party Organ.”
The Committee eventually reported on the result of their enquiries to the E.C. meeting of the 30th July, 1904. In their report that stated that the cheapest estimate they had received was from Jacomb Bros., who quoted £7 10s. 6d. for 3,000 copies of an eight-page paper. The E.C. decided to accept this estimate, to go ahead of the money could be raised, and to find out if branches were in favour of publishing a journal without delay, and the extent to which they would be prepared to support the venture by cash guarantees from members and willingness to take quantities of the journal when issued.
The E.C. then came to the question of title. The following five proposals were submitted: —
The Socialist News. The Socialist Standard. The Socialist Republic. The Red Flag. Socialism.
It was unanimously agreed to recommend to branches that the journal be called “Socialism.”
A delegation of the E.C. visited all branches for the purpose of explaining the E.C.’s proposals with the object of raising funds to publish the paper as soon as possible.
The cash guarantees from members amounted to £4 13s. 6d.; Islington branch guaranteed to raise a further £9. The branches undertook to dispose of 1,300 copies monthly. It was then decided to issue the journal immediately. An Editorial and Management Committee of five members was appointed from the Executive Committee.
After receiving the votes of branches on the name of the paper the E.C. found that four of the names received exactly the same number of votes. They then took a vote on the four names, the result of which was that “The Socialist Standard” was decided upon.
On the 1st September the first number of the Socialist Standard came out. It contained eight pages; was four inches longer and an inch and a half wider than the present “S.S.,” and had three columns to a page. Its price was one penny.
The first column on the front page contained an editorial from which we quote the following paragraph:
“In the Socialist Party of Great Britain we are all members of the working class, and cannot hope that our articles will always be finely phrased, but we shall endeavour to lay before you on every occasion a sane and sound pronouncement on all matters affecting the welfare of the working class. What we lack in refinement of style we shall make good by the depth of our insincerity and by the truth of our principles.”
The paragraph that followed this contained a prophecy that, alas, has not yet come to pass.
“We shall, for the present, content ourselves with a monthly issue, but we are confident that the various demands upon us, by the quantity of matter at our disposal, and by the growth of the Party, will necessitate in the near future, a weekly issue of our paper.”
At first articles were printed from non-members, but the confusion caused soon led to the decision to print only articles from members. The columns of the paper were always open, however, to opponents to express their criticism of the Party and its policy.
The printing of the paper was done by Jacomb Bros., one of whom, A. E. Jacomb, was a founder member of the Party. Some time in 1907 Jacomb Bros, ran into trouble. A. E. Jacomb had written a book on the Woman Question which did not find favour in government circles. This book was censored. The police visited the printing premises to seize unsold copies and destroy the type. In the process they “accidentally” smashed the printing machines and thereby put Jacomb Bros. out of business. However, in spite of many vicissitudes, A. E. Jacomb continued to handle the Party’s printing. He had an original method of quoting. He found out what the other quotations were and quoted less! He also forgot to send in his bill promptly and used to wait months for payment. By 1921 the burden became too much for him and he had to give up.
Two years after the Socialist Standard commenced we ran into trouble—a libel action. The front page of the August 1906 number contained an article headed “Found Out.” Underneath the title was a lengthy sub-title: “Labour Leaders Sell the Union Members and their Apologist Gets a Warm Reception.” The article gave a report of a mass meeting at which Richard Bell, General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, defended his and the Executive’s action in accepting an arbitration finding in opposition to the decision of a conference of railwaymen. The Socialist Standard containing this article was sent to all branches of the Railwaymen’s Union. Bell took action against the Party for libel. At first writs were issued against each member of the Executive Committee. Eventually two of the members were accepted as defendants—Anderson and Fitzgerald—both of whom were out of work at the time. The proceedings dragged along for months. At last, on July 15th, 1907, the case came up before Mr. Justice Darling. Mr. C. F. Gill, K.C., with two other barristers, acted on behalf of Richard Bell, instructed by his solicitors; Anderson and Fitzgerald conducted their own case. In summing up Mr. Justice Darling said that under the rules the Executive Committee were not bound to obey the majority of the members who were employed by the North-Eastern Railway and who voted on the question, but they had to consider the interests of the society as a whole. If the plaintiffs had not betrayed their trust they were entitled to a verdict.
What the jury thought, after hearing the case, may be gathered from the trifling nature of the damages. They found a verdict for the plaintiffs for 40s.!
The August 1907 number of the Socialist Standard contains a report of the case. Some of the statements in that report are more libellous than the original article. The front page article on the case concludes with the remarks: “This is our first libel action, but it may not be our last. We will take that risk and others that may arise.”
A well-dressed man, who had listened to the case, went over to Anderson and Fitzgerald afterwards and said to them, “You did very well boys”; then he gave them a sovereign to buy themselves drinks. What actually happened was the group of members who had turned up all went to a coffee shop and spent the money on a dinner.